Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
I have been a protestant all my life long. For years I have been totally dissatisfied with the Protestant (specifically Evangelical) view of the Lord's Supper, or lack thereof. I began a search to try to examine the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the believer. As you may know, in most protestant/evangelical Churches, it is normally practiced once a month to every quarter. I began my search in the early church fathers, and was blown away at the Catholic spirit (with a captial "C") that I found in their writings. I moved on to study the CC in more depth by reading books, listening to lectures and attending a Mass or two. I am becoming more and more convinced of the one Apostolic Church of Christ with two exceptions that keep hanging me up. And I have heard they are usually the biggest hindrances to most protestants. Mary and the Pope.
I read Scott Hahn's book "Hail, Holy Queen". It was very good and eye opening. But I still am not convinced. Forgive me if this seems irreverent, but it seems that too much is being made of Mary.
I am challenged by many of my previously held misconceptions about Mary, and have grown in appreciation for her and her integral role in salvation history, but I can't bring myself to petition her as though she is of higher rank than other saints in heaven. I even heard a quote from a Pope the other day (not sure which one) where he was praying to Mary that she would convert the wicked. This is perplexing to me, unless he meant it in a qualified sense.
The other item, concerning the Pope, believe it or not does not have to do with his position necessarily, but with his style. I hope this doesn't sound like nitpicking, but it really bothers me the lavish dress, gold, kissing of his ring by Catholic Christians, Pope-Mobile, inter-religious dialogue etc... If Peter gave himself up to be crucified upside down and Jesus rebuked him for trying to defend him with the sword, why does the Pope have body-guards, a bullet proof car, a lavish cathedral that is well guarded??? I hope this doesn't sound like a foolish question. I really mean it from my heart.
Any help in these areas would be great.
For my quick take on Mary, see “The Mother of the Son”. My counter-question to you is: If Catholics honor Mary “too much” (and by the way, you will have to include the overwhelming majority of Christians in that since all the apostolic traditions reverence Mary), then how is it Evangelicals and Calvinists honor her “just enough”? I finally realized that it is the fear of honoring Mary in a relatively narrow band of Protestantism that is the odd duck in Christian history. It’s like teetotalers fretting that Catholics have “too much” wine at Mass. Mary *is* greater than all the other saints because she shares a relationship with Jesus that is utterly unique. Can’t speak for the quote since I don’t know what it is, but my guess is that, yes, he meant it in a qualified sense. She’s not God. But she is the greatest of God’s creatures.
As far as the Pope goes, the style thing actually comes out of Jewish liturgical practice. Note the (typically neglected) prescriptions for liturgical dress in Exodus. The priest’s garment are “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). Liturgical garb performs a revelatory function, as all liturgy does. It’s not for the comfort of priest (and when you think about it, it’s quite cumbersome). It’s for the benefit of the worshipper. Chesterton remarks on this wisely:
For instance, it was certainly odd that the modern world charged Christianity at once with bodily austerity and with artistic pomp. But then it was also odd, very odd, that the modern world itself combined extreme bodily luxury with an extreme absence of artistic pomp. The modern man thought Becket's robes too rich and his meals too poor. But then the modern man was really exceptional in history; no man before ever ate such elaborate dinners in such ugly clothes. The modern man found the church too simple exactly where modern life is too complex; he found the church too gorgeous exactly where modern life is too dingy. The man who disliked the plain fasts and feasts was mad on entrees. The man who disliked vestments wore a pair of preposterous trousers. And surely if there was any insanity involved in the matter at all it was in the trousers, not in the simply falling robe. If there was any insanity at all, it was in the extravagant entrees, not in the bread and wine.
“Clothe yourself in Christ” is precisely what is happening in the vestments a Pope or any priest wears, because he stands in the place of Christ. Likewise, with the ring and such like, it’s very much like when you go to receive communion and bow: you aren’t bowing to the priest, but to the Host. Likewise, to kiss the ring is to honor the office established by Jesus. And the Popemobile? Even St. Peter didn’t *try* to get himself killed. When he escaped from prison, he skipped town and didn’t wait to be re-arrested and killed. The Pope is under no obligation to make himself a target for assassins. Nor, to be honest, is the Swiss Guard a particularly formidable force should somebody really decide to lay siege to St. Peters.